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Editorial: Vaccinated people should get a break

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It may feel like a small step, but it’s a pivotal one. Enabling easier travel for those vaccinated in Hawaii is a significant advance toward family unification and freedom of movement within the state, things missed by every island extended ohana and any resident longing for a bit of interisland exploration.

On Tuesday, nearly 1,300 people took advantage of a new exemption from COVID-19 quarantine or pre-travel testing requirements to take a neighbor island trip, said Lt. Gov. Josh Green.

It was the first day of the exemption being offered in the state-authorized Safe Travels program, one that Green hopes can be demonstrated to work well, so Hawaii-vaccinated travelers arriving from the mainland can gain that allowance also.

This is a milestone in pandemic recovery, something worthy of celebration in its own right but additionally as a means of achieving “herd immunity” against the coronavirus. The exemption, among the first special allowances for those who have received their shots, should underscore the advantages of vaccination.

A successful launch of the Safe Travels exemption, even if only for intrastate trips, ought to help convince those who have not been immunized against COVID-19 that the vaccine poses very little risk in exchange for access to more normal social activities.

Also helpful: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday endorsed the emergency authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for youths 12 and up. Families with adolescents in tow will find it easier to plan a quick interisland trip for all, without the added expense and complication of securing a negative COVID-19 test result.

Americans nationwide have been bearing up for more than a year of constraints against traveling and seeing friends and family. But this has been felt most keenly in Hawaii, where even travel within the state has been complicated.

On April 27 the CDC updated its guidance, urging people contemplating a trip to delay travel until they are fully vaccinated, which then would dispel the need for self-quarantine.

Hawaii has taken a strict approach in applying that guidance, the governor ordering that exemptions will go only to those whose vaccinations are verifiable in local databases.

Green on Tuesday added that if all goes well, this can apply to those with verifiable Hawaii vaccinations coming trans-Pacific, though he declined to project when that might happen. The attorney general has advised that the limited exemption is legal because it is based on having verifiable data and on protecting public health, he added.

Speaking Monday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” webcast, the lieutenant governor also emphasized that the exemption only kicks in 14 days after the completion of vaccination doses, the dual-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and the one-shot Johnson &Johnson version.

Also rightly stressed is that the exemption does not deny the right to travel to anyone who declines to be vaccinated. The pre-travel COVID-19 testing that waives quarantine still provides that option to all.

Despite the complaints to the contrary from those opposing vaccines or unable to get one for medical reasons, this is fair, and a provision rooted in the concern for public health. Those who have been tested and those who got the shot are deemed as presenting comparable risks for spreading the virus — a very low risk.

The vaccine credential is free, however, a clear advantage. Hawaii wants to attain herd immunity, and this interisland travel benefit for those who vaccinate is a nudge in the right direction. And that’s a nudge the state clearly needs.

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